Some have a nose for the birds. Others are just there for the fellowship.
By Kyle Wintersteen, Managing Editor
There’s a long smoldering bother deep in my belly that lately has reached a fever pitch. How is it possible that my buddy Cole and I use practically identical waterfowling accoutrements — similar shotguns, comparable decoys, calls from the same makers — and yet he can slip into a spot that days ago skunked me and emerge with a heavy strap of greenheads. The kind of haul that would inspire most of us to drive down Main Street yelling, “Hey, everyone! Come get a load of this $***!”
My friends, I offer you this: If it’s true what Ernest Hemingway once penned in Esquire magazine that birds “were made to shoot and some of us were made to shoot them,” then would not the inverse also be correct? Is it possible Cole possesses some inherent gift from his Creator to whack and stack, while I’m doomed to return 60 days per year to my wife — her countenance doe-eyed in anticipation of a duck dinner — only to lower my head and sullenly confess, “Not today, dear.”
Let’s consider the evidence.
Cole: Finds the motherlode, a cacophony of mallards, pintails, wigeon and gadwalls that would make you swear Saint Leopold opened the gates and let loose every duck in the kingdom.
Me: Locates a spoonbill, six coots and, I think, a distant merganser. In other words, yeehaw, tomorrow it’s on!
Cole: Grabs a pair of pre-made sandwiches — thickly layered with turkey, cheese and lettuce but certainly no soggifying tomatoes — and quietly heads out the door. His boat is already trailered to a battered pickup truck with failing taillights that’s otherwise unflappable.
Me: I can’t find my hat. Who loses a hat? Can you hunt ducks without a hat? I shake my head. My dog barks on the way out the door. My children awaken. Better move quickly before my wife does, too. I stop to pick up a gas station breakfast taco. It tastes like sadness.
Cole: Places decoys with precision. Further brushes in his boat blind. Makes a few greeting calls and some feeding chatter just to, as he puts it, “Let the ducks know I’m here.” I would call B.S., but Cole’s success is, well, he’s not like the rest of us.
Me: The briars of the thick multiflora rose slice through my waders during my long trek to the beaver swamp, a deed soon confirmed by a rush of frigid demon water pouring across my shredded flesh. I toss my decoys. Some are touching. Others are tangled. But as the sweat I worked up on the hike in begins to sabotage my core temperature, I opt to settle in and hope for the best.
See Any Ducks?
Cole: Yes indeed, his only struggle is to reload fast enough.
Me: I finally see a single mallard that elates me on a level as if I’ve killed it. Which, of course, I do not.
Cole: Admires retrieve after retrieve by his Boykin spaniel, including a seamless mark to a distant blind.
Me: My dog barks at an archery hunter, breaks on a passing heron and steals the remainder of my taco. Guess which move he regrets.
Cole: Wishes it didn’t take him a seventh shell to kill his sixth duck.
Me: Continues allowing my brain to turn the crows in my periphery into canvasbacks. At least I won’t have to clean my gun.
Cole: Can’t wait to go again.
Me: Can’t wait to go again.
Ultimately, there will always be people who are superior hunters — who shoot straighter, call more convincingly and own better-trained dogs. But this is not a competition. And nobody will ever take more pleasure in the sight of ducks and geese on the wing than us.
Kyle Wintersteen of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, is managing editor of Delta Waterfowl.